For the past few weeks, I’ve been running an experiment: inviting friends to simply hang out and do nothing, or close to nothing. I’ve asked them to drop by for a cup of tea. I’ve volunteered to join them as they walk their dogs. When I found out that my local grocery store opened at 7 a.m., I asked a fellow early riser if she wanted to get her shopping done early with me.
Some were slightly suspicious at first, but everyone was game. (“Well, I do need coffee filters,” said my friend, who joined me at the delightfully empty supermarket.)
It’s well-documented that friendships improve our physical and mental health and are vital for well-being. But I was inspired to make it even easier to see friends after reading “Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time” by Sheila Liming, which argues that unstructured time with others can improve our relationships.
When you’re a kid with limited funds and modes of transport, hanging out with friends feels natural. But adults are often used to doing scheduled activities with one another, said Jessica Ayers, an assistant professor of psychological science at Boise State University, who researches adult friendships.
“Often, we don’t think something is beneficial unless it’s productive,” she said. We don’t always realize “that sitting around and resting with someone is still a productive state, and worthy of our time,” she said.
Liming, an associate professor of writing at Champlain College, said there wasn’t much research on hanging out and more was needed. But there’s evidence to suggest that face-to-face contact can strengthen emotional closeness. Plus, hanging out has an appealingly low barrier of entry, and it’s inexpensive: You don’t need reservations or tickets or special skills.
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